Hi! I'm Ruth & the owner of The Alternative Bread Co.
I have always considered my diagnosis of coeliacs disease as a blessing, my Dad however possibly not - we lived on a sheep and cropping farm. My sister was allergic to wool and now I couldn’t have any of the crops we grew! We certainly weren’t an advertisement for our family farm or the profit line!
To coin a phrase and to show you that it has been a day or two since my 21st birthday celebrations, things were different in my day! Coeliacs was still very unknown, diagnosis was through biopsy only and you’d be lucky if your doctor had it on their radar at all. It took 11 years for diagnosis and a few late night hospitals dashes, where in one case I was given a bland diet of dry toast to follow. No one really knew anything, the largest fountain of knowledge was American written library books and I use the term 'knowledge' loosely as really they were so irrelevant to us as you couldn’t source the ingredients.
I remember our first attempts at gluten free bread. Over the back fence became a grave yard of small windowless buildings, some would land with a thud as they hit the ground, others would explode their uncooked mess everywhere. We feared for the birds that they would never fly again if they ate it. We gave up and sour cream rice crackers, the fat polystyrene looking ones became my staple. My "overindulgence” has left me unable to eat another. I shudder at the thought of them now and the taste of soy flour and I thought I’d be better off crushing the limestone rocks on the farm and eating that. Another reason why we have no soy in our products.
The one thing about all of this - it didn’t stop me, I learnt to adapt to the situation, ordering a bun less burger in Eastern Europe in the 90’s was a very entertaining exercise. I travelled and worked around the world happily eating strange concoctions without gluten and got a few weird looks at my dinner plates along the way.
Three years after becoming grown up enough to be a parent was when it all changed. Our daughter was diagnosed with coeliacs and one of her first realisation moments came when she realised she couldn’t have a sandwich like dad. This was possibly one of the harder parenting moments to handle, I had passed on the coeliac gene and was now faced with what my parents had many years prior. No longer could I justify an apple for breakfast and skipping lunch. I needed to lead by example and I actually wanted that sandwich too.
I was grateful that my knowledge had grown and I knew there was more than sour cream rice crackers out there. Try feeding gluten free bread to a toddler that resembles something similar in taste and texture to its packaging is not a successful experience. It brought me to my mission to bake gluten free bread, as bread should be, light and soft, eaten as a sandwich and toasted by choice not necessity. I was pulling in all the tricks I had learnt from avoided sheep yard and shearing shed duties to spend hours baking with Mum to fill the smoko baskets. I am confident enough to say our gluten free pikelets could fool any hardened shearer these days!
I was content making our own bread and then I had a late night shower moment when I realised we weren’t alone, there are hundreds of other gluten free, New Zealand families out there on the exact same path as us. Would it be rude of me to keep my knowledge to myself? I wasn’t about to open a gluten-free free bakery that would only help out a small localised group. I was thinking the whole country, the small remote farmers who only go to town once a month or for emergency tractor breakdowns!
Bread mixes! Keeping it simple with technique and ingredients was how we could help everyone. Our first commercially produced bread mixes left our premises in April 2019 and since then we have sent out over 15 tonnes of gluten free goodness to families throughout NZ. We are proud to be changing the gluten free bread world one slice at a time!